conservation concept conversation…

It’s a bit of a tongue twister, yet it’s a curious thing – switch the ‘v’ and the ‘s’ in the two words and you have two very different meaning words. But are they all that different? Could they be parallel?

Continuing on yesterday’s post how do you define a concept? I asked about the concept of conservation. I quoted Edward de Bono in his definition of concept as a: “convenience package, a grouping, a clustering, an assembly for a purpose…”

This fits well with dictionary definitions of conservation:

1. The act or process of conserving.

2. a. Preservation or restoration from loss, damage, or neglect.

b. The protection, preservation, management, or restoration of wildlife and of natural resources such as forests, soil, and water.

3. The maintenance of a physical quantity, such as energy or mass, during a physical or chemical change.

That definition isn’t really narrowing things down is it? We still have a cluster, grouping or assembly of concepts – such as, protection, preservation, management or restoration. I can’t say that my understanding of the concept is becoming more focussed or understood.

The American Heritage Science Dictionary defines it as:

The protection, preservation, management, or restoration of natural environments and the ecological communities that inhabit them. Conservation is generally held to include the management of human use of natural resources for current public benefit and sustainable social and economic utilization.

OK, now maybe this definition highlights an issue I have with how the term conservation is bandied around discussions of how we try to look after wild salmon. The end part of this scientific definition sort of forgets the environmental or ecological components.

To be fair to the folks that drafted and wrote Fisheries and Oceans Wild Salmon Policy, there is a discussion of “important terminology”: conservation and sustainable use. There appears to be some thought put into this aspect of the policy – unfortunately, the definition is full  of bafflegab-bumpf:

Conservation is the protection, maintenance, and rehabilitation of genetic diversity, species and ecosystems to sustain biodiversity and continuance of evolutionary and natural production processes.

Hmmm. Remember that quote from my last post: “Jargon is not about using big words to make small points. Sometimes it’s about using big words to make no point at all.” Not to mention toss a little term in there that has been the subject of hot debate for, well…, a hundred years or so – “evolutionary”. And then a few other terms that sit on the fence on opposite sides of the yard, shouting to each other.Could it be that the “convenience package” was taken to heart a bit much?

The differences between protection, maintenance, and rehabilitation could be compared in an analogy of owning old vehicles.

A vehicle generally serves a purpose – transportation. We can equate sustaining our  ‘transportation’ as parallel with: “sustaining biodiversity and evolutionary and natural production processes.” Some of the evolutionary and natural production processes at work in vehicle ownership are the natural break down of vehicles through use, plus ‘evolution’ of moving to a newer vehicle, being influenced by the advertising industry, our neighbour (that Jones guy) and his new SUV, a growing family (another natural production process) dictating need for larger vehicle (of course I know nothing about this having just grown to a five-member family with three kids under the age of 4).

From one aspect of this analogy: what if I have an old vehicle and realize I wanted to ‘protect’ the vehicle for its own sake, as simply an object, then I’d park it in a garage and marvel at its beauty and lines and color – similar to an entire industry in North America of protecting (or preserving) old cars. As these cars become more rare, they increase in value – so one might suggest protecting the car is like protecting the genetic diversity of cars. As the species dwindle (or “evolve” – such as into SUVs) then the value of this car increases. Yet by maintaining and maybe rehabilitating the car – such as making sure it doesn’t rust out in the garage,  run the engine periodically, and maybe even rehabilitate a few tired parts like the upholstery –  I could be said to be sustaining the ‘biodiversity’ of cars on the planet.

It is this sustaining of biodiversity that makes old cars popular. As new cars all start to look the same – the old cars maintain a beauty and appeal that is sought after (except for maybe the first Chrysler mini vans).

Now, from another point of view – if I have an old vehicle on its last legs and  it’s one of my few modes of transportation (not that I know anything about old VW Rabbits or Subaru wagons…). I perform a different level of protection, maintenance, or rehabilitation. Sustaining biodiversity simply means sustaining my mode of transportation and thus the diversity of vehicles on the road. Protection is usually pretty minimal – when I take it to my mechanic, he gives me the run down on what must absolutely be replaced and what I might get away with for awhile (that is I have a good honest mechanic). Maintenance on an old vehicle – what’s that? Well, ok, maybe the odd oil change or brake change.

So, as we can see – we have  a few words running around like chickens with their proverbial heads lopped off. But this is OK; as de Bono suggests concepts are: clusters, groupings, convenience packages, and so on. We don’t need to spend the next twenty years debating definitions – don’t even get me started on another ‘c’ word: “consultation”.

Behind, or alongside, the concepts are intentions or understandings. When I read through the Wild Salmon Policy not only do I see a lot of largely meaningless bumpf words – you know, similar to dealing with mega-corporation 1-800 numbers. You phone in and are told about “how important your phone call and business is”, then are sent through an infuriating range of recorded messages that do not get you where you need to go. Press ‘0’ and you’re on hold for half an hour. Get a person, “oh no, it’s not me you need, you need to talk to our customer service dept”, transfer, on hold again, oops cut-off….

Meaningless bumpf words – they are a scourge.

Filling a government policy with bumpf words is a great way to say a lot without saying much at all. Again, what is it that we are trying to conserve?

Biodiversity? Genetic diversity? Evolutionary and natural production processes? Well, if there were two salmon of either sex in every stream that wild salmon currently inhabit. As long as we keep the majority of those spawning pairs alive year after year – we are successfully maintaining biodiversity, genetic diversity, evolutionary and natural productions processes. Very impressive. Conservation has been met.

The components of the Policy that tend to eat at me – is the notion and tone that conserving salmon is about conserving wild salmon for human use. The stated goal and guiding principles state:

The goal of the Wild Salmon Policy is to restore and maintain healthy and diverse salmon populations and their habitats for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of Canada in perpetuity.

Sure there is mention in the policy that wild salmon are pretty important to a lot of other critters in the rivers, seas, and oceans that they migrate through. And yet, there is no mention of the near 90% decline of salmon in many parts of their natural range. Just as commercial fishermen, canneries, dock workers and others dependent on the salmon fishery are seeing un-paralleled hardships – what about the thousands upon thousands of bears that have seen 90% decline in their food sources.

Gee, could there be a connection between the huge upswing in bears being shot in BC communities by Conservation Officers.

There was research conducted in the late 1900s in the Columbia River (once the greatest salmon river on the planet – now the Fraser River) that found over a thousand kilometres upstream from the mouth that fur from grizzly bears had huge concentrations of carbon and nitrogen that had originated from deep within the North Pacific Ocean. There are certain isotopes of carbon and nitrogen that only come from the ocean – and thus they leave a unique trace that can be tracked in various substances: fur, hair, bones, trees, leaves, etc.

When I was out on Leg 1 of the Wild Salmon Cycle, I stopped riding two days before 9/11. I stopped in Tok, Alaska and settled into Dawson City, Yukon to wait out the winter before setting out on leg 2 of my trip. I did some work for a First Nation in the central Yukon as their ‘salmon habitat steward’. While doing this work, I learned about how the massive Porcupine caribou herd that migrates back and forth from the north slope of Alaska to the Northwest Territories, was seeing increased grizzly bear predation in the northern Yukon.

Is it simply a coincidence that a large chum salmon run on the Fishing Branch River – a tributary to the Porcupine River the namesake for the caribou herd – had basically collapsed? In the late 1990s spawner returns were estimated somewhere around 5000 after seeing runs several times that for generations.

Salmon run deep into our human psyche – however they run deeper into the systems they migrate through. Humans are simply one more cog in the greater systems, we’re simply one more critter in the ecosystem. Sure we’re one of the few critters gifted with thumbs which we use to write (or type), but maybe that power could be used to design things that matter – rather than empty, largely meaningless pieces of paper that collect dust on shelves.

So rather than flipping-out about defining conservation I am certainly more interested in the conversations that we can have that give us stronger guidance on how we can use our thumbs for the betterment of all. As I quoted de Bono in my previous post: “Concepts may be contrasted in terms of function or method of operation. They may also be a contrast of purpose.”

Maybe looking over de Bono’s fast-food ‘operating concept’  from the previous post is a piece that could assist in exploring the concept of conservation. In that comparison of operating concepts, de Bono points out that the fast-food industry had to change. Some of the original fast-food places were built upon the operating concept of “get ’em in, get ’em out” – serve as many customers as possible.  As the industry grew and fewer customers were available for each establishment, the operating concept had to switch to “keep ’em in and get them to spend more on each visit”.

The world of wild salmon has changed dramatically – even in the last ten years, which is when the initial drafts of the Wild Salmon Policy emerged from the bureaucratic behemoth. For many years the operating concept of looking after wild salmon has been maximize number of salmon to be caught by people (First Nation, commercial and sport) – with the commercial sector certainly having a large component of the focus.  This is why the concept from farming “maximum sustainable yield” has been the central concept to the existence of Fisheries and Oceans.   That’s why they have the name “Fisheries”; it’s also called ‘fisheries management’, not ‘fish management’ for a reason. The concept is similar to: “get ’em in, get ’em out”.

Maybe it’s time to shift the operating concept to: “keep ’em there for as long as possible and get them to contribute more”. Meaning, get as many wild salmon to the spawning grounds as possible and keep ’em there as long as possible. For the time being, I don’t think there’s any better strategy for: “protection, maintenance and rehabilitation” and ensuring we have wild salmon “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of Canada.”

I don’t think we really have much of a choice… not that I am one for fear mongering and Chicken Little admonishment. However, as I finish typing this post I am preparing to head outside to build a snowman… snowperson… with my daughter. The key to building a snowperson is the ‘snowballing’ effect.

Snowballing…. good for feats of snow sculpturing and architecture; bad for salmon populations on the downward slide.

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